Jovi Ho Published on Wed, Dec 01, 2021

Peace and quiet can be elusive in the city. Some seek out these precious moments in parks, others pay good money to find them overseas.But stillness can be distressing for tourist attractions, like how Resorts World Sentosa’s (RWS) 49 hectares of hotels, theme parks and casino fell silent last year.At the peak of the lockdowns, Singapore’s tourism industry suffered an 81.2% y-o-y decline in international visitor arrivals and $963 million in gazetted hotel room revenue in 3Q2020.The closure of Singapore’s borders was also reflected in how the share price of casino and resorts group Genting Singapore moved.Its shares plunged to an all-time low of 58.2 cents on March 16 last year, nearly halving y-o-y. The share price recovered to 77 cents as at Nov 30.

“The impact can be felt across all Resorts World Sentosa’s businesses,” Loh Su Kim, vice-president of sustainability at RWS, tells The Edge Singapore. “This year, as the world starts to slowly pivot to recovery and reopening of economies and borders, it remains clear that international travel is unlikely to resume to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.”

Genting Singapore owns RWS, which features a casino, SEA Aquarium, Adventure Cove Waterpark, Universal Studios Singapore, six luxury hotels, MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) facilities, restaurants and retail outlets.Loh adds: “RWS remains cautiously optimistic and will continue to seize the opportunity to pivot our focus into driving necessary transformation to emerge stronger after the pandemic.”

While that pivot includes a push for sustainable tourism, how does that differ from conventional tourism? “Sustainable tourism takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

Sustainable tourism

Global tourism accounts for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This considers emissions from flying to construction activities by host companies. But today’s holidaymakers want to do better.According to the 2021 Sustainable Travel report by booking.com, 81% of the travellers are looking for sustainable accommodation in the coming year, while 61% say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably.

Loh cites an ecotourism market report from January by US-based Allied Market Research, which expects the sector to reach US$334 billion ($455 billion) by 2027, at a CAGR of 14.3% from 2021 to 2027. “The rise of the conscious and conscientious Lohas (lifestyle of health and sustainability) consumer has forced the tourism industry to reconsider how travel will re-emerge and what shape it will take in the future.”

What can guests expect from a sustainable holiday? Loh highlights RWS’s efforts in environmental sustainability, which includes installing solar panels, district cooling, charging stations for electric vehicles, energy-efficient LED lights, rainwater harvesting, smart bins and more.

RWS says the resort has reduced its carbon footprint by 16% since 2015. As a member of the Sentosa Carbon Neutral Network, RWS has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030.

The resort is also the first destination in the world to be certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s (GSTC) Destination Criteria, with its hotels also certified under the accompanying Industry Criteria. GSTC was initiated in 2007 by several United Nations agencies to develop a global standard for sustainable tourism.

“We are working closely with the Singapore Tourism Board and the Sentosa Development Corporation to position Singapore as a sustainable tourism destination and to nurture an environmentally conscious workforce and community,” she adds.

Loh took on the sustainability portfolio in January. This comes in her eighth year at RWS, where she is also vice-president of procurement and leasing.

There are synergies between the portfolios, she explains. “Procurement played a key role in RWS’s move towards reducing single-use plastics, as well as various supply chain initiatives, such as procuring food waste bio-digesters and sourcing for alternative eco-friendly packaging material.”

Carbon neutral initiatives

On Oct 26, RWS launched its Eco Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (Eco-MICE) packages. The package breaks character by introducing unusual practices, which start from getting around the country.

To encourage the use of public transport to reduce carbon emissions, all guaranteed delegates attending an Eco-MICE event will receive a complimentary EZ-Link card with $5 in stored value.

Complimentary stationery, too, have changed, as guests will be offered reusable pens and recycled paper.At meal times, guests receive food in sustainable packaging. Unserved meals will also be donated to the Food Bank to reduce food waste.In addition, food grinders and a biodigester have been installed in the kitchens to reduce the amount of food waste headed to landfills.

Since 2018, RWS has stopped providing single-use plastic straws, ceased sales of single-use plastic water bottles and started phasing out single-use plastic tableware like sauce dishes, plastic cups and plastic takeaway bowls.

Through these initiatives, the company claims it has saved approximately 130 tonnes of plastic from packaging waste per year.

Fresh produce is not overlooked either; all the eggs and cress RWS procures come from local farmers. Coffee beans are also Rainforest Alliance-certified, which means that it is committed to sustainable agricultural sourcing.

Low says RWS was awarded the Singapore Packaging Agreement Award by the National Environmental Agency from 2018 to 2020 as a result of these waste reduction initiatives. “In many ways, the sustainability role is a natural transition from procurement, given that I am invested and passionate about doing my part for the environment and community.”

“Like Covid-19, sustainability and climate change require the government, industries, businesses and the community to work together,” she adds. “I encourage my fellow sustainability leaders to be part of the collective global and local effort to take on the challenge in order to create greater collective impact.”

“Travel and tourism will never be the same again. The good news is, we are now presented with an opportunity to revitalise the sector into a more responsible and purposeful one, with lasting positive change for future generations to enjoy.”

Photos: RWS